Weekend in Kandy

For the Kandy adventure, we hired a van and driver to drive us.  Monday was a Poya Day (a Buddhist celebration of the full moon that is also somehow connected to bringing rain), so many Sri Lankans were traveling for the long weekend and trains were completely full! The driver turned out to be a great option because we visited Sigriya, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Botanical Gardens, as well as many sites within our Kandy destination.

On the way to Kandy, we stopped at an elephant orphanage. Annelise and I opted to not go in because it was expensive and we had read about the questionable motives and treatment of the elephants in the care of this “orphanage”. After the others had gotten their fill of elephants we drove on to a spice garden and learned a little bit about the various spices grown in Sri Lanka and used in ayurvedic medicine. The best part was trying out the samples! First we tried some spicy tea and next thing I know, my shirt is off and an old woman is giving me a back and neck massage with some medicinal oil. Everyone was having a blast. We arrived on Friday night in Kandy after a leisurely ride into the central mountains of Sri Lanka.  Just for your information, people drive on the left side of the road and the right side of the car.  The typical road laws about passing and speed are non-existent in this country so we did a lot of weaving in and out of traffic.  It is about 116 km to Kandy from Colombo and we probably averaged around 35 km/hr so it takes between 3-4 hours.  While there are no laws for speed, the average is not fast at all because all highways are one lane in each direction and dump trucks go slow uphill.  We arrived at the Old Empire Hotel, which was close in proximity to the main drag and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.  The room was simple and cheap and shared bathrooms were available. That night we watched a show of traditional Kandyan dancers. It was a tourist thing but it was good to know what some of the traditions might have been like a long time ago.

 On Saturday we went outside Kandy to the largest botanical gardens in Sri Lanka.  At 60 hectacres, the gardens were once reserved for royalty but now it is a nice, clean park open to the public.  It was nice to observed Sri Lankans in a relaxing environment.  Families were at picnics and little kids were playing tag.  Couples were canoodling in the park, the only place that they can, as we walked the edges.  Behind every large tree there are at least two couples spending “quality time” together. Haha!  One interesting thing about the gardens was the number of gigantic bats in the trees.  Thousands of bats were sleeping and awoke during brief rain shower.  In fear of poop, we walked under the umbrella as cat-size bats flew in the treetops.  After returning from the gardens, we walked around the streets of Kandy just to see the town’s stores.

 On Sunday we went to Sigriya.  Sigriya is a large volcanic rock, perhaps remnants of a large volcanic magma chamber of an old volcano.  The rock, and entire region surrounding, was originally thought to be a fortress but modern archeology has revealed it to be a monastery for Buddhist monks.  We climbed to the top of the rock which as quite a feat.  The ancient stairs were stable and safe but the modern rebar construction was sketchy at best.  Hundreds of people were on poorly constructed steel stairs leading up the side of the rock, looking at the rust beginning to degrade the steel connections to the rock.  From our experience in the Inca Ruins of Macchu Picchu, the ancient carved rock steps are much safer than any form of modern construction method.  At the top the view is expansive, little stupas are visible at almost every little town.  After the hike we returned to Kandy and rested for the evening, grabbing some vegetable kottu at a delicious restaurant. 

The next morning we woke up at 5:00am to observe the early morning worship at Temple of the Tooth (the most important Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, which houses a shrine holding one of Buddha’s teeth).  Since Monday was Poya Day, we dressed in white clothing and entered the site.  Security is heavy at the Temple because of a past LTTE bomb attack but it was easy for us to get through.  We entered the temple, shoes off of course, and followed the line of people in the procession.  We weaved up the stairs and around to the room where the Tooth was placed.  The tooth is supposedly inside the room, locked inside a golden box. There were monks around it and tons of people were offering beautiful flowers, money, and little gifts.  We peeked in the room and proceeded to observe the praying and meditating. We even saw some Buddhist nuns, who wear the same orange robes as the monks and shave their heads like the monks. The only way you can tell they are women is because they wear long-sleeved shirts under their robes. After an hour or so, we walked around the rest of the Temple grounds observing the massive families gathering for a day-long picnic at the Temple.  By 11:00 we were sick of the rain so we left for Colombo.  The drive went quicker, about 3 hours, and we arrived back at Shangri-La, just in time for some Maldivian Food and Insanity workout. 

Haircut… Sri Lankan Style

As most people know, my hair grows quickly and gets extremely bushy when long.  Annelise has been cutting my hair for the past few years (economic benefits) but we found out that in Sri Lanka, haircuts are relatively cheap.  We also discovered that male haircut places are called saloons.  So, in an effort to give Annelise a break from pruning me, I walked down the street and found my first saloon.  I swung open the doors to find a small room with one man, one chair, and a smile.  I butchered my limited Singhala vocabulary but through non-verbal explanation we arrived at an agreement where he would cut my hair with scissors and take off tika-tika (a little bit).  The man went to work starting with my sides then trimming the top.  After about 10 minutes of snipping and trimming, he turned me around so I could look at my transformed self.  When I looked in the mirror, I was extremely pleased with his work and surprised at his ability to make a Westerner’s hair (something he does not cut everyday) look good.  After a brief moment of happiness, he grabbed some oil and began to pour it in my hair.  Next thing I know, he his giving me the head massage of a lifetime.  Not sure why this is part of the package but it was fantastic.  Perhaps to stimulate hair follicle growth, the massage relaxed me even more.  After about 7 minutes he stopped, pulled out a straight razor and began shaving my face and trimming the edges of my hairline.  The unexpected events then came to an end as he took off my neck covering.  I got out of the chair and asked “kiyada” (how much).  His response “150 rupees.”  If the conversion from rupees to dollars is 126 LKR = 1 US, then you do the math (a little over 1$).  So, I gave him 250 rupees and walked out, relishing in the satisfaction/success of my first saloon experience.  I am not sure every saloon in the world I walk into will be like this but if it is, I will be a happy man. 

Flash Flood!

When it rains in Sri Lanka, it pours. Thankfully, huge booms of thunder and fairly terrifying flashes of lightning give about an hour-long warning signal before the rain actually hits. The other day we had made plans to meet some Fulbrighters at the main hotel in Sri Lanka for a nice dinner. Of course when the afternoon booms sounded the alarm, most of us were napping, wrapped up in a good book, or on the internet. Soon the few trickling raindrops had become buckets of rain, splashing in through the windows, flying out of the gutters, and making the yard into a complete lake. 

We decided to try to go into Colombo anyways (dumb, I know) and suited up in ponchos, raincoats, and umbrellas. We were an attractive group. After bracing ourselves we stepped out into the rain and were immediately soaked from head to toe. Apparently when rain falls at such as fast rate, it can bounce as high as Jake’s stomach (the average person’s chest or shoulder). The rain gear did nothing to protect us, but we persisted. We traveled down the river that was once our driveway and attempted to hail 30 tuktuks, but none would stop. This ended up being a good thing since we later heard that tuktuks hydroplane in the slightest puddles. Thoroughly soaked, but still happy, we turned right around and floated back home. Jake then sat us down for a long, one-way discussion of his observations of local drainage systems and how they could be improved. Love him!

Summing Up Our First Weekend Trip

Friday morning class followed by a flurry of packing. Jake and Annelise manage to pack everything into one triangle backpack and one purse! Domination!

Tuktuk to the train station, almost get squished between two competing busses (a usual occurrence).

Buy tickets and entertain the whole station with our foreignness. People stare.

Train arrives and entire station of people sprints at the train! Foreigners sprint with them, having no idea what to do. Train leaves within 30 seconds of arrival.

No seats on the train. Jake observes that train was 10 minutes early. This is impossible.

There is always room for one more on the train. Entire schools of children and groups of workers pile into the train. More stares. Train stops at final stop. We were on the wrong train.

Wait for the next train. Jump on. Find Chris, the Fulbrighter coming from Kandy. Arrive and take bus/walk to Unawatuna. It’s a complete tourist trap. We are not impressed.

Just as we had read, greed and deregulation has caused business owners to build right on the beach. Most buildings have partially crumbled into the ocean. Only a thin strip of sand separates buildings from the water. Not living up to the Costa Rica standard.

Sleep under a mosquito net. Eat awesome breakfast. Grab lounge chairs in front of a guesthouse.

Play in the Indian Ocean for the first time! Love the water! Get completely burned. Lots of Europeans in speedos.

Scramble up huge rock cliff while looking for a beach mentioned in lonely planet. Jake chats with a Sri Lankan, we follow him into the jungle on a footpath.

Find a beautiful Buddhist and Hindu temple. Find that Sri Lankans are very fluid in their faith and are willing to attend temples, mosques, and churches depending on the situation. Also learn that Sri Lankans will celebrate any faith’s holiday because it is a holiday!

Hike to a giant pagoda on the ocean cliffs. Hike down to the Lonely-Planet-mentioned beach: Jungle beach.

Eat nachos in Sri Lanka, made by a Sri Lankan chef who trained with a Hispanic guy from Los Angeles. Awesome nachos!

Lazy morning with another good breakfast and time on the beach. Arrive super early at the train station. Train is parked so we grab seats and ice cream! The ride back is much more enjoyable. 

So Sorry!!!

So sorry that we have not been updating the blog on a regular basis! We have been writing posts, but life keeps getting in the way! We are currently at an internet cafe. Our house has been internet-less for over a week now, so we are going to try to catch up on a week’s worth of emails, blogging and internet research today! Hope everything is going well at home! We have been able to keep track of the weather (snow, no snow, Sandy, ect.) but we would love to hear updates on everyone’s personal lives!

Barf!

As usual, traveling is wearing and tearing up our bodies. Wanting to jump right into the culture and traditional habits as quickly as possible is a noble endeavor on the outside. The slightest knowledge of Sinhala delights Sri Lankans and the sight of us sweating profusely and spilling spicy curry everywhere as we eat with our hands is sure to bring out a smile. Even the things we do to fit in that don’t get noticed, like wearing long pants (or skirts) in 80 degree heat and 100% humidity are part of the effort we make each day to fit in. Most of the time it is well worth the effort! Unfortunately, the body is just not yet keeping up.

Last week we were still feeling super lethargic, falling asleep without meaning to and then waking up in the middle of the night with no energy, but no will to fall back asleep. Then it progressed to stomach issues. For a day and a half I couldn’t keep anything down, and then lived off of crackers for a few days after. The stomach issues brought about body aches and headaches, which only increased the desire to nap all day, but thankfully Shiva took care of us and gave us some magic balm! Poof! No aches and no more stomach problems!

We are now taking it slower.  We ate “western” food all weekend while we had access to touristy restaurants, and we wear inappropriate clothes when we are at the house, such as shorts (ahhhhhh!) and tank tops (heaven forbid the scandal!!). The sickness has traveled around and every Fulbright had officially been out for the count for at least a day or two. Jake now has a cold, and I have gotten sick once more, but now that we are being Sri Lankan in moderation we should all be fine!

Update:

After writing this yesterday, we went to a Buddhist temple and a Hindu temple with Shiva. We were all very excited about the trip, and the temples were really beautiful. So exciting and beautiful that I passed out for no apparent reason! Thankfully Jake and the others caught me on the way down and rushed me back to the house to get sick again. I felt fine after that, but of course Shiva thinks that a spirit overcame me in the Hindu temple and wants to do some sort of ritual, which we refused. He now looks at me really weirdly and threw some powder over his shoulder when he came into the room I was in. Haha! Oh well! 

Sorry

Sorry for the lack of posts. During a particularly big storm the power was out for a long time, and apparently a lot of power and phone lines were brought down. We didn’t have internet for a while, and since it came back it has not been the same. Websites that require a lot of energy, like the uploading page for the blog, are not coming up easily. L Sorry for the delay!